Remembering Denise

As many of you know, Denise Pena, the co-founder of BePaws passed away in early November. She dedicated her life to saving dogs and passed while rescuing puppies in Tennessee. 

Denise had such an impact on hundreds of dog’s lives and the families they went to. The outpouring of love on social media showed this. I wanted to compile some of the stories shared on our Facebook, here.

BePaws Families

These are just a few of the many posts shared by families who have a dog that Denise saved.

“Our hearts were broken to hear of the passing of Denise Richter Pena. We were blessed to adopt (Bentley) Sebastian. He was 2 months old and his head was so big compared to his tiny body. He has been part of our family for about 3 months now and his body now matches his head!! When we think of what would have been ahead for our baby, it can make us cry. God puts us on this earth for a reason. Denise perfected her worldly job and I am sure she was joyously welcomed in heaven!! Our sincere condolences to her family. Thank you Denise and may God Bless You.”

-Gina Kathleen

“This is Harvey and he came to us in February through BePaws. If it weren’t for  BePaws and Denise, he would not be with us. He has certainly changed our world for the better and we owe BePaws and Denise such heartfelt thanks.  We send our sympathy and condolences.”

-Kristin Shannon-Price

“Ziggy and I are very sad to hear of Denise’s passing. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have this wonderful boy in my life. Big hugs to her family, friends and coworkers during this terrible time. She will be sincerely missed!”

-Kate Donahue

“Denise Rest In Peace. Benji the Buddy and my family owe her so much gratitude. Her dedication to saving pups in need, all the memories we will have with Benji because of all the work she did. She truly brought so much joy to so many lives beyond species.”

-Tae Querney

“Zoe’s family would like to send our deepest condolences. If it wasn’t for Denise we wouldn’t have this wiggly pup to keep us warm and happy. We are truly blessed.”

-Amber Holly

Denise thank you for bringing Biggie into our lives. Because of you we all learned the meaning of second chances.”

-Michael Surella

“Our deepest condolences to Denise’s family and friends! Her life journey is one to be admired! It takes a very special person to be so selfless in dedicating her life to helping helpless animals! We are forever grateful for her rescuing our new pal Hank ( aka Adam) On her farewell rescue mission. Our hearts will be forever thankful for her! We will love and spoil Hank the rest of his furry life.”

-With Love, The Randall Family

Alissa Nieli was having trouble finding a dog and after the dog she wanted got adopted, Denise stepped in to help. “That night, she was texting me photos of dogs she hoped to get on the next scheduled pickup. Before I knew it, she helped match me with Emmet (aka Archie), a little boy dog mixed with who knows what that seemed like he was going to be perfect for our family. I don’t think “above and beyond” even describes how Denise—in the midst of the rescue’s personal tragedy and an influx of people who were hurt and dogs that needed help and Covid and everything else—went out of her way to help me. Not because I was the “best rescue candidate” I thought I was, “entitled” to another dog, but because she wanted to help—help me, help the dogs. It was really humbling. I hope Denise left this world knowing she made a difference in the lives of the most innocent creatures among us. Many rich, famous, important people go to their graves having never had that honor, having never made that difference. I’m glad Denise was not one of them. Attached is a picture of Emmet, who now owns a big chunk of our hearts with his oversized, goofy, clumsy self. Best of luck to you all as you move forward.”

-Alissa Nieli


Denise also had a huge impact on the shelter’s that she rescued the dog’s from. These shelters are overwhelmed with dogs and many people who worked at those shelters shared their memories of Denise and their gratefulness for her work.

“I haven’t posted yet, but I’ve read every single post everyone has made here. It’s clear how much Denise Richter Pena was loved. It still doesn’t seem real that she is gone. It’s so hard to accept .Denise and BePAWS reached out to us right when ALFA was on the brink of shutting down. We just had no help and we weren’t having any luck moving dogs. But then came Denise and BePAWS, out of no where! They literally saved our rescue, and saved so many hundreds of dogs more. I love seeing all of these posts, in honor and thanking Denise. I know she would be thrilled to see everyone’s kind words, and all she would say is “I do it for the dogs. It’s all for the dogs.” Denise, I’m going to miss your smile and your laugh. I’m going to miss how fiercely you protected any and all animals. I’m going to miss how much you loved every single dog you met. Your enthusiasm every time it came to loading a van full of dogs, no matter how exhausted you were. Your strength, both mentally and physically, always astounded me. You were such a kind, beautiful, incredible woman. We love you, Denise!!”

“I’ve waited awhile to post. I don’t even know how to put into words what Denise Richter Pena meant to us at A Love for Animals Rescue – ALFA. I don’t think I could put it into any better words than Kristina Hattenhauer did. So instead of rehashing an already well written post conveying any feelings on the ALFA side, I thought I might put into words how Denise impacted just my life. This will be long and for that, I apologize.

Several months after our ALFA/BePaws partnership began, I begged (but not too much because she’s a sucker for sad faces and any dog in need), our director, Theresa Turner Johnson, to pull a senior that was Code Red (next in line for euthanasia) at the Memphis, TN pound. They were going to put him to sleep because they said he was suffering, which in the state he was in at that time, he probably wasn’t comfortable. Spud came to us and after a short time in a foster, he came to me. He was still skinny, his back legs were riddled with arthritis to where he didn’t want to walk much and when he did, it was all he could do to keep his balance. We took him to the vet locally after he put on weight and he had heartworms. His age and other health issues didn’t make him a candidate for fast kill even if we wanted to go that route. Denise invested herself in Spud’s well-being. He was a dog that she knew would never be a BePaws dog…we all knew he would never leave my house (and he didn’t)…but that didn’t sway her. She sent him a slow kill heartworm package and gave me tips to help keep them at bay as well as his arthritis. Soon, Spud was coughing rarely, had more energy, and would walk without taking a break all over the yard. He wasn’t in pain. He was comfortable and very happy. Not only that, but Denise always asked me about Spud. She genuinely wanted to know and was always thrilled to see pictures and videos.

We lost Spud, suddenly. It wasn’t due to heartworms but a pesky nail that he had most likely eaten prior to his time at MAS. Denise offered to draw me his favorite picture, something I thought I had more time to pick out. What I do know is she finally met that gray hippo that she fell in love with through pictures and videos a few days ago. I know he greeted her with a wagging tail and many, many slobbery kisses. I know he will keep her company in her next life with a whole gaggle of other dogs.

Thank you, Denise. Thank you for investing in my old boy’s life and saving countless others. Thank you for saving us at ALFA and allowing us to help get so many more great homes. We already miss you. Rest easy, friend, and take care of my boy Spud for me for awhile. We will continue the good work here.”

-Morgan Mitchell

If it weren’t for Denise I wouldn’t have started fostering. I took in Blaze, a husky/weimaraner mix as my first foster and it was not an easy transition for either of us. Denise walked me through every step and always had advice and words of encouragement. Without her I honestly would have given up. Thank you Denise. Thank you for all you’ve done, for your heart and your passion for animals and your unrelenting fight to save as many dogs as possible. You will be so missed.

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